Jonathan Fryer

To the White Tower

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 4th August, 2008

 I write this in the shadow (well, almost) of the White Tower in Thessalonika, built on the orders of the Ottoman Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent in the 16th century on the site of an earlier Byzantine structure. The tower houses a Byzantine museum, which is currently closed for restoration. LIke the Tower of London, the White Tower of Selanik (as the Ottomans called Thessalonika) served as a prison as well as a fortification, and it acquired a grizzly reputation. In 1826, Sultan Mahmud II ordered the massacre of prisoners there and the place was re-dubbed the Red Tower by the locals because of all the blood shed.

The White Tower has been the subject of heated controversy more recently. After the break-up of Yugoslavia, the main opposition party in the new Macedonian Republic (FYROM) suggested banknotes should be printed bearing a picture of the White Tower. Thessalonika is the capital of the Greek province of Macedonia and there was uproar among many Greeks (who are still smarting about FYROM using the name ‘Macedonia’) as they saw it as an attempted claim on Greek territory. The government in Skopje wisely rejected the idea, but some extreme nationalist groups in FYROM printed some dummy notes anyway. As Macedonia hopes one day to join the European Union (a development which all current member states, including Greece, would have to approve), there needs to be some delicate diplomacy between Athens and Skopje if that aspiration is to become a reality.

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